B.C. must toughen its road tests now
By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, November 20, 2013
The first required B.C. driver’s road test does not include a highway component. Nor is there a mandatory high-speed merge. In fact, the first road test does not allow the candidate for a licence to radically exceed a municipal speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour. Not until two years has elapsed does a novice driver have to demonstrate high-speed driving proficiency on a second, optional road test. At that time, there is a necessity to drive 80 km/h and merge on and off a highway.
In other words, the B.C. government, through its Crown corporation monopoly, issues a driver’s licence to many young, relatively inexperienced drivers, which gives them the right to drive the Coquihalla highway at a speed of 110 km/h in winter, without ever proving their competency on any compulsory road test. The absence of a high-speed performance demonstration is not only a lack of due diligence, but also a curious omission for a government that is well-known for having the most difficult road test in North America.
No driver candidate should be issued a driver’s licence without first showing skill and safety at the everyday tasks they intend to or will be required to perform. The greatest single cause of accidental death for young people in our society is when they are behind the wheel of a vehicle. The two greatest causes of new-driver deaths are in a vehicle at high speed and at intersections. It is totally irresponsible to issue a privilege to drive without testing the new driver at high speed.
The B.C. road tests are excellent in the way they emphasize the mandatory demonstration of a new driver’s skill and safety at all types of intersections. Every effort is made to expose new drivers to every type of intersection; two-way, four-way, uncontrolled, circular, signalled, pedestrian-controlled and any other conceivable configuration. The right-of-way must be demonstrated at all intersections. Accurate turns and proper safe gaps at intersections are emphasized throughout the first driver’s test. The left turn, across an oncoming traffic lane, is probably the most dangerous manoeuvre on any driving test. The B.C. government does a better job of testing this driving skill than any other jurisdiction in North America. No driver taking a road test in B.C. will pass unless there is an understanding of the time and space needed to execute proper driving behaviour at intersections.
It is high time that certain optional driving activities required on a B.C. driving road test be eliminated, in order to make way for those mandatory activities that every driver must perform. High-speed driving should be given the same emphasis as intersection driving on the first road test. We should not wait two years until a second optional road test may or may not be attempted before asking a driver to demonstrate it.
Parallel, hill and reverse-stall parking manoeuvres are hardly death-defying: These are optional, non-mandatory skills. Mundane activities should be eliminated from the B.C. road test in order to allow enough time to test more important and mandatory skills such as highway merging.
If it is important to include dangerous intersections on the road test, then it should be equally important to road test highway merging. Without such an additional inclusion on the first driving test, the B.C. government is exposing new drivers to dangerous, untested, high-speed situations.
Steve Wallace is the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Western Canadian vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a graduate of the University of Manitoba.